Archive for the ‘Redevelopment’ Category



Press Clips: Corgis, Mermaids & Buffalo Beasts

Friday, February 25th, 2011

This just in: At this hour, the Calbuzz Little Pulitzer Jury is meeting in closed-door, emergency executive  session, intensely discussing how to sort out the impact on this year’s journalism awards of Carla Marinucci’s game-changer, global exclusive interview with Jerry Brown’s dog.

As the world now knows, Costco Carla not only obtained the first sit-lie-rollover face-to-face with Sutter, the stylish and charming Welsh Corgi recently named California’s First Dog, but also somehow obtained permission to walk the dog around the Capitol.

The key  issue in the hush-hush meeting of the LP prize panel is this: While Marinucci’s incredible, multi-platform storytelling feat makes her the clear front-runner for this year’s Blair Witch Award for cinema verite enterprise journalism (25K daily circulation category), should she be DQ-ed for not reporting a crucial bit of historic context?

To her credit, with the glaring exception of the phrase “era of bi-pawtisanship,” the latter-day Lois Lane produced her canine chronicle with a minimum of bad dog puns (alas, the same cannot be said of Debra J. Saunders, who provided the print-only version of the big event).

Nevertheless, senior Calbuzzers on the jury expressed concerns about her assertion that the comatose display of full underside nudity, provided by the passive pooch while under questioning, marked “the first time…a subject has fallen asleep DURING an interview.”

Maybe so, several judges acknowledged, then quickly countered that the veteran news hen failed to mention a famous and relevant journalism case study of how a California REPORTER once fell asleep during an interview.

Sources recalled that, in the summer of 1990, when Your Calbuzzards were bitter rivals and fierce competitors, both were granted interviews on the same day with Pete Wilson, then the Republican nominee for governor, in the lobby of the San Jose Fairmont Hotel.

After the pair nearly came to blows over who would go first, a coin flip decided the matter; moments later, an astonishing scene unfolded, as the go-first ink slinger (we name no names) nodded, drowsed and then fell completely asleep during Wilson’s protracted answer to a question about land use planning.

“The combination of Pete’s extraordinarily tedious monotone and his amazing ability to never pause for breath has an overwhelming somnolent neurological effect,” the nonplussed newshound said in his defense. “It’s truly hypnotic.”

Will Marinucci’s omission of this media milestone doom her chances with the contest judges? We’re standing by to bring you the news of their decision in the case as soon as we get it. Back to you, Brian.

The not-so-little mermaid: Mega-kudos to Timm Herdt for a fine yarn highlighting the hypocrisy of local officials who won’t stop caterwauling about Brown’s move to shut down redevelopment agencies, shouting to the heavens that it’s an outrageous violation of Proposition 22.

That measure, for those who were still drunk from celebrating the Giants championship and missed election day, was aimed at blocking Sacramento from grabbing money from cities and counties to paper over the state deficit. Local officials now fighting Brown on the redevelopment issue insistently invoke Prop. 22, with the same level of fervor (and logic) Tea Partiers use when they triumphantly note that the Constitution doesn’t specifically give  Congress the right to pass laws about cell phones.

As the wily Herdt notes, however, Brown is simply using the same argument that Prop. 22 boosters themselves used to sell voters on the initiative:

Last fall, the League of California Cities, which spent $2.5 million to promote a ballot initiative, argued forcefully that property taxes should be used only to pay for essential public services…

In the 463 words of the cities’ ballot argument in favor of Proposition 22, “911 service” is mentioned five times, “fire protection” four times, “police service” four times and “senior services” twice. “Redevelopment” — which pays for none of those things — was mentioned not at all…

To argue that voters gave a mandate to protecting redevelopment is dishonest and silly.

Putting redevelopment into their initiative was an overreach on the cities’ part, and one that now complicates any possible compromise that would allow redevelopment agencies to continue while also turning over a greater portion of their tax revenue to be spent on basic government services.

As we posited this week, with unusually measured restraint (“Strident, indeed. Hysterical, overwrought and hyperbolic, too. Seldom have we witnessed such widespread, collective urban self-centeredness coupled with apparent disregard for the social fabric”), redevelopment types are simply on the wrong side of history on this one.

As Tom Meyer demonstrates today, making manifest a splendid column by our friend George Skelton, the self-righteousness of the statewide urban developer-political hack nexus is too much to bear when you start to look at what some of these latter-day Phidias types are actually building.

Dive Bar features what is billed as the largest nightclub aquarium in the world. That’s impressive, sort of. But is a mermaid bar — any bar — really what tax money should be spent on when governments are struggling to keep their heads above water?

Maybe laid-off teachers can land jobs as mermaids.

“Not everything that dives in the water is a mermaid,” goes a Russian proverb. True dat; sometimes it’s just taxpayers taking a bath.

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Dumbo and the Beast: Corgis notwithstanding, for pure, unadulterated buzz this week, it’s impossible to top the effort of Ian Murphy, editor of the Buffalo, N.Y.-based site The Beast. Murphy’s cojones enormes, world-class quick-wittedness and beyond-Beckett sense of the absurd yielded him the biggest phony story scoop since Orson Welles led the aliens in invading New Jersey.

His pantsing and punking of the repulsive Wisconsin governor Scott Walker,  who along with his senior staff totally fell for Murphy’s low-rent imitation of oligarch David Koch, was not only an all-time, real-time prank, but also a white-bright laser beam that instantly illuminated the high stakes political dynamic playing out in the Badger State.

That said, one thing it wasn’t was journalism, at least as practiced in the U.S. for the last hundred years or so. Although the Society of Professional Journalists aimed a scalding screed at Murphy, citing chapter and verse of how he’d violated every ethical tenet in the book, what their bashing demonstrated more than anything is the vast distance between the venerable ethics, standards and values of the MSM and the warp-drive universe of the internets. Not to mention the utter futility of codifying any standards whatsoever for the drive-by, Mad Max online frontier that extend beyond self-policing.

Let’s review: the SPJ calls Murphy’s hijinks “underhanded,” “inflammatory,” and “inexcusable” – this aimed at a guy who advertises The Beast as “the world’s only website,” features on the home page a sad image of a starving kid urging readers to “donate now” to help the editors buy drugs, and features in his list of sponsors a pharmaceutical cure for those who suffer from “Oldness.” Talk about ships passing in the night.

So journalism, it’s not. High-end new media theater? Way.

The Case for Why Redevelopment Must Go

Monday, February 21st, 2011

To hear mayors, council members and bureaucrats from throughout California screech and squeal about Gov. Jerry Brown’s call to shut down redevelopment agencies in favor of schools, the elderly and disabled, you’d think Krusty had proposed bulldozing Main Street.

As John Shirey, executive director of the California Redevelopment Association, put it the other day:  “I must be clear: we are stridently (sic) opposed to the governor’s proposal to abolish redevelopment and our singular goal is to defeat this proposal that will destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions in economic activity.”

Strident, indeed. Hysterical, overwrought and hyperbolic, too. Seldom have we witnessed such widespread, collective urban self-centeredness coupled with apparent disregard for the social fabric.

There’s no way to know for sure, but it appears redevelopment agencies have already done what they can to hoard their loot by slapping together and hastily approving projects that would consume the same $1.7 billion in property taxes that Brown’s budget would use to keep from having to make further cutbacks to schools and social services as the state struggles with a $27 billion deficit.

San Diego officials are cooking up a plan to sequester $4 billion for a Charger’s football stadium and Los Angeles is trying to lock up $1 billion and other panicky RDAs are scheming to do the same.

Their bet is that Brown won’t sue them to recover those funds (even if the agencies are on shaky legal ground) because he won’t want all of those mayors and city officials opposing a June ballot measure to approve his budget by extending $12 billion in taxes and fees adopted two years ago.

How that will play out politically remains to be seen. But we don’t have to wait to understand the debate.

Needs in conflict: As long-ago urban affairs reporters, Calbuzz saw the powers of redevelopment used positively, to help revitalize urban areas in desperate need of infusions of investment. So we get that there are good arguments for the continuation of redevelopment, which are being blasted out to media and policy makers by the coalition to “Stop the State’s Redevelopment Proposal” (although we do wonder how much redevelopment money they’re spending on lobbying).

But California is facing a budget crisis of historic proportions that at least two and possibly three previous governors and their concurrent legislatures refused to own. And Brown has concluded that the interests of schools, widows and the disabled should have first call on funds that – according to the best, most objective studies – do little to expand California’s collective economic health when they are funneled into redevelopment agencies.

He’s right.

Redevelopment law allows cities (and counties, but they use it less) to declare a geographic area “blighted” and in need to revitalization. The property taxes in that redevelopment area are frozen and any new property taxes generated above that base may be used to purchase land, build streets and sewers and subsidize development in the project area.

The tax increment above the frozen base can be guaranteed as a source of funds to pay interest on bonds sold on the open market. This is called tax increment financing and it is a hugely powerful tool for urban investment because of its ability to leverage vastly more money at one time than is generated by the flow of property taxes annually.

There are some 400 active redevelopment agencies throughout California diverting more than $5 billion a year away from schools, counties and special districts and into the coffers of those agencies. The economic theory that argues for the process echoes Reaganesque trickle-down: by generating construction jobs, sales taxes and other activity in the redevelopment area, the rising tide is said to lift all boats and the region around the project area is expected to benefit. Like giving tax breaks to the wealthy is supposed to help the middle class.

Spinners for the RDAs argue that redevelopment activities support 304,000 jobs annually, including 170,600 construction jobs; contribute over $40 billion annually to California’s economy in the generation of goods and services, and generate more than $2 billion in state and local taxes in a typical year.

Moreover, since the law requires 20% of the tax increment to be dedicated for low- and moderate-income housing, the RDAs argue that eliminating redevelopment will significantly undermine efforts to provide homes for those who otherwise cannot afford it.

A close look at the numbers: But the most thorough and academically sound study of redevelopment we’re aware of, by Michael Dardia of the Public Policy Institute of California, found in 1998:

After correcting for local real estate trends, the author finds that redevelopment projects do not increase property values by enough to account for the tax increment revenues they receive. Overall, the agencies stimulated enough growth to cover just above half of those tax revenues. The rest resulted from local trends and would have gone to other jurisdictions in the absence of redevelopment.

A study by the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office recently concluded as much and more.

While redevelopment leads to economic development within project areas, there is no reliable evidence that it attracts businesses to the state or increases overall regional economic development. Instead, the limited academic literature on this topic finds that—viewed from the perspective of an entire city or region—the effect of this program on property values is minimal. That is, redevelopment may cause some geographic shifts in economic development, but does not increase the overall amount of economic activity in a region. [emphasis added]

The independent research we reviewed found little evidence that redevelopment increases jobs. That is—similar to the analyses of property values—the research typically finds that any employment gains in the project areas are offset by losses in other parts of the region. We note that one study, commissioned by the California Redevelopment Association, vastly overstates the employment effects of redevelopment areas.

Redevelopment agencies receive over $5 billion of tax increment revenues annually. Lacking any reliable evidence that the agencies’ activities increase statewide tax revenues, we assume that a substantial portion of these revenues would have been generated anyway elsewhere in the region or state.

For example, a redevelopment agency might attract to a project area businesses that previously were located in other California cities, or that were planning to expand elsewhere in the region. In either of these cases, property taxes paid in the project area would increase, but there would be no change in statewide property tax revenues.

To the extent that a redevelopment agency receives property tax revenues without generating an overall increase in taxes paid in the state, the agency reduces revenues that otherwise would be available for local agencies to spend on non-redevelopment programs, including law enforcement, fire protection, road maintenance, libraries, and parks. [emphasis added]

The bottom line: In other words, despite the good arguments that RDAs make about the enormously positive local impacts of redevelopment – San Jose’s downtown and its northern industrial area are excellent examples – the evidence suggests that there’s a huge cost to the state (which has to back-fill funds that otherwise would have gone to schools) and little benefit or a substantial cost to counties and special districts.

We’re not even getting to other issues, like the fact that the only “blight” a lot of redevelopment areas had before they were made projects was pear blight, and the fact that there’s virtually no oversight of how redevelopment funds are spent (and millions is spent outside the law’s intent  to subsidize flagging city budgets and improve stable neighborhoods). That’s just piling on.

Gov. Brown’s budget would ensure that RDAs will receive enough money to cover the debt service on bonds they have already issued  (although the structure of the agencies that will make those payments still must be worked out).

But in an era when California is faced with draconian cutbacks to higher education, schools, parks and public safety, the diversion of property taxes to redevelopment agencies is a luxury the state can no longer afford.